Crowd turns out for Lichfield Speaker’s Corner election debate

Candidates line up at Lichfield Speakers Corner. Pic: Nick Brickett

Candidates line up at Lichfield Speaker's Corner. Pic: Nick Brickett

As the election race hots up, three of the four parliamentary candidates for Lichfield faced the crowds at Lichfield Speaker’s Corner to put forward their policies and persuade voters to support them on May 6th.

The event, organised by Lichfield Speaker’s Corner and chaired by Canon Pete Wilcox took place on Saturday on Dam Street by Minster Pool and attracted a crowd of around 60 people who gathered in the sun to hear what their candidates had to say.

Attending were Steve Hyden for Labour, Ian Jackson for the Liberal Democrats and Karen Maunder for UKIP. Canon Wilcox began proceedings by introducing the three candidates and explaining that the fourth, and former Lichfield MP, Michael Fabricant could not attend due to a previous commitment. Fabricant’s absence was met with boos by the waiting crowd. Wilcox then took pre-determined questions from members of the crowd.

What will your party do to ensure armed forces on the front line do not suffer from financial cuts that would put their lives at risk?

  • Hyden began by stating that troops needed protecting and that Labour would ring-fence money allocated for front-line troops.
  • Jackson re-iterated the duty to support troops and added that he deeply regretted the fact that the troops were even at war and said that “the sooner they’re back, the better”. He went on to stress that a stable government is needed in Afghanistan. He said the Liberal Democrats would hold a full defence review, including trident which they would not replace like-for-like, saving £100bn that they could spend on troops.
  • Maunder again said that all parties wish to support the troops but claimed there had been a decrease in spending on front-line troops. She said that UKIP would use the savings they would make from leaving the EU to provide a 40% increase in funding to the front line. Maunder also said that the UK’s relationship with the EU was undermining relationships with NATO and the Commonwealth which needed to be strengthened, and complained that the EU has too much control over military procurement sources.

The questioner responded with concerns over the teaching contract for Whittington barracks which has not yet been let out and has supposedly already surpassed it’s original target date.

What steps will parties take to help local businesses recover from the downturn and increase footfall in the centre of Lichfield?

  • Maunder said UKIP would reduce the tax burden on business.
  • Hyden mentioned the Travelodge survey which suggested no-one wanted to come to Lichfield. Lichfield District Council leader, David Smith quickly retorted from the crowd with the assertion that 3 million people visit Lichfield. In the only apparent blunder of the day Hyden made the mistake of calling Lichfield a town. He went on to suggest that Labour would deliver a 12-month promotion of Lichfield and would improve parking facilities in the city.
  • Jackson spoke about the High Speed Rail plans and suggested the line should run along the M6 Toll with a stop near to the junction with the A38 to serve Lichfield.

A comment from an audience member (a Communist Party member called Daoud) received an applause when he said that a priority should be placed on manufacturing in the constituency.

Daoud - a Communist Party supporter. Pic: Nick Brickett

Daoud - a Communist Party supporter. Pic: Nick Brickett

Does the potential for young, fit people to register at a GP near work threaten local GP services? Additionally, what do the candidates propose to do about rumours over the future of Samuel Johnson Community Hospital being under threat?

  • Hyden said he didn’t know anything about any such rumours but said he loves the hospital and would protect it.
  • Jackson started by saying  the per-patient funding system doesn’t work and needs changing. Then, to the delight of much of the crowd, said the Samuel Johnson site should have been built on the site of the old Victoria Hospital instead of that land being sold off for the cash. He also complained about land around Samuel Johnson being sold off, presumably relating to the plans for a care home at the back of the hospital.
  • Maunder questioned whether people really would register at a GP nearer to work, suggesting that people wouldn’t want to commute to work to see their doctor if they became ill. She praised Samuel Johnson hospital but said it needed doctors, not just nurses.

The questioner then suggested that the government was looking to move NHS services into more centralised services to reduce overhead and that presented a threat to Samuel Johnson Community Hospital but none of the candidates knew of any such proposals. Another round of applause was heard for Daoud (pictured right) when he chimed in with an attack on privatisation of the NHS saying, “it’s a national health service not a privatised health service.”

Are the candidates prepared to take measures to restrict air travel when it is considered that the next Government is likely to be the last that can stop runaway climate change?

  • Jackon said the Liberal Democrat policy was to tax planes, instead of the current system of taxing passengers, which they would also extend to freight aircraft. Liberals would also scrap the plans for a third runway at Heathrow. They would offer loans and grants for home owners to make their houses more energy efficient.
  • Maunder questioned, to derision from the audience, the science behind climate change and said UKIP would establish a Royal Commission to look at the evidence. When jeered at she said, “I have a PhD in Science and I’ve looked at the figures.” UKIP, she said, would also invest in renewable energy. She was prompted to answer specifically on flights but offered no reply.
  • Hyden said the High Speed Rail link would reduce the need for internal flights. He pointed out a couple of children playing nearby and said “I’m campaigning for them.”

Are prisons warehouses for the incorrigible or greenhouses for the redeemable?

  • Maunder answered both. She said convicts need to be kept out of society but also educated. She advocated tougher sentences and less ‘cosy’ prisons.
  • Hyden mentioned the proposals for a prison on the site of the failed eco-town at Fradley and seemed to suggest that such a prison would attract criminals to the area. He went on to say that prisons need to be less cosy and that criminals should suffer.
  • Jackson said the prison population is a disgrace and that 90% of inmates re-offend, calling prisons “schools for crime”. He said a lot of crime is drug related and a big problem is the number of women in prison. He advocated getting people off drugs which would reduce the prison population, especially that of women and prevent so many children going into care.

As Michael Fabricant was not in attendance, the Conservative leader of  Lichfield District Council, David Smith was given six minutes to respond to the questions at the end. Before he could start one member of the crowd shouted, “why should we bother to vote for absent candidates?”

Smith began by saying that Michael Fabricant is a hard-working MP. He said we need to get the economy working and that a Conservative government is the only one to do that. He continued, stating that troops should have the right kit to be safe but that troops should also get the help they need once they’re home. Smith attempted to re-assure the assembled constituents that Whittington Barracks plans would continue but he wasn’t privy to contractual information. Trident is needed to defend ourselves as a country, he said.

On schools he praised Lichfield’s schools for performing very well despite being amongst the most poorly funded in the country but said they could do a lot better under a Conservative government. The High Speed Rail proposals also came under fire from Smith who said that Lichfield would become a no-go area if the plans went ahead and called upon the experience of the four-tracking work which he says has led to a reduction in service quality. Smith was cut short before he could answer the remaining points raised.

Saturday’s Speaker’s Corner event was a pre-hustings event in the run up to Thursday’s hustings at Emmanuel Christian Centre in Netherstowe, where all four candidates will spend two hours answering questions.

Editorial note: ‘Thanks’ to a technical failure I did miss a question and so neither the question nor the answers to that question are included in this article, for which I apologise.

Once again, Nick Brickett was on hand to photograph the event;

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2 Comments

  1. Mike

    28th April, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    Not sure what Smith means by a reduction in service quality on the railways. Stations on the Trent Valley line now benefit from a hourly service between London and Crewe via Lichfield and Stoke. the trains are new, clean and fast. The take longer to get to London than Virgin’s because they go via Northampton but are cheaper. Bear in mind we used to have a rail replacment bus every 2-3 hours between Stafford and Nuneaton! Fabricant did little to change this, mainly because he wasn’t using them. However he made sure Virgin kept their services stopping at Lichfield early in the morning, mainly because he did use them (and their complimetary 1st class facilities). The only reason we have a much more frequent service now is because the 4-tracking went ahead and allowed London Midland to run those services. The HS2 could provide a lot of stimulus for this stagnant area if it is handled wisely. Jackson probably came up with the best proposal.

  2. Steven Norman

    2nd May, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    I suppose the Tory candidate could have forgotten but as he is not prepared to say where he lives on his nomination paper I don’t suppose anyone could have gone to get him. If he’d been at a surgery we wouldn’t know where to go there either as he must be one of the few MPs who have secret surgeries.